Dieting and human behavior

2010/01/25 at 09:21

I just finished my first week on WeightWatchers online. I have followed the WeightWatchers plan in the past to lose weight, and I have to say, I prefer the current plan–the online version–over the previous plans.
The first reason is the online part–in the past, the WW plan focused on attending your weekly meeting. I’m an introvert and I hated the meetings; I never wanted to share my experiences, and I felt that didn’t get much from others’ experiences. With the online plan, I get all the advice, and the diet and exercise tracking using an online and iPhone app with no expectation of attending meetings.
The second, and bigger, reason reason I like the new plan is how you track your eating. Everything you eat is tracked as points, which you can look up in the apps (a point is roughly 60-70 calories, but also takes fat and fiber content into consideration). That’s the way WW has done it for several years. With the current plan, though, you get X points per day, plus 35 weekly points to use whenever you like during the week (plus, exercise earns you more weekly points).
Most days last week, I followed the plan really well, but I went over my daily points a little two or three days. But with the weekly points, that was no problem. And on Saturday, we visited my mother-in-law’s and aunt’s house in San Antonio, which is always an eating challenge: they keep lots of sweets and the meals aren’t often very dietetic. On Saturday, I ate better than I have in the past, but I still ate some cake and we ordered pizza for lunch. I consumed about 50% more than my daily points! On a ‘traditional’ diet, that would have been a failed day, but I had enough weekly points left to cover it. Again, no biggie.
By the end of the week, I’d used all my weekly points and a few of my activity-earned points, so I stayed on the program; more importantly, I lost some weight and felt successful.

Scientists discover the obvious

2010/01/20 at 11:27

The hot scientific pursuit is putting people in fMRI machines and recording their brain activity while certain things happen. On his excellent blog The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer discusses the findings of a recent experiment where scientists recorded brain activity while the subjects listened to music:

There are two interesting takeaways from this experiment. The first is that music hijacks some very fundamental neural mechanisms. The brain is designed to learn by association: if this, then that. Music works by subtly toying with our expected associations, enticing us to make predictions about what note will come next, and then confronting us with our prediction errors.
The second takeaway is that music requires surprise, the dissonance of “low-probability notes”. While most people think about music in terms of aesthetic beauty – we like pretty consonant pitches arranged in pretty patterns – that’s exactly backwards. The point of the prettiness is to set up the surprise, to frame the deviance. (That’s why the unexpected pitches triggered the most brain activity, synchronizing the activity of brain regions involved in motor movement and emotion.)

As a musician, those conclusions reinforce my own layman’s observations about music appreciation. The definition of music appreciation that Jonah compares this to is, in my opinion, pretty unsophisticated.
My question is: how to we explain why some people like totally predictable music? (I admit, there’s a lot of snobbery in that generalization)